/ Shopping

Supermarkets – still enticing us with phantom offers

Food on supermarket shelves

Once again, we’ve found that supermarket special offers aren’t as special as they claim. Even if you see one advertised and visit the shop that day, the item may not be in stock, as our check of over 1,000 items revealed.

We went into shops to look for over 1,200 items on the same day they were advertised as being on special offer – but 5% of these items weren’t available.

Of course, some popular offers will be hard to come by, but would you expect them to be sold out if you went into the store on the day you spotted an ad in the paper?

Worst of all, we found that Sainsbury’s was selling two washing powders at their full price of £20 when they had been advertised as being on offer at half price.

Just how special are these offers?

We’ve looked at supermarket special offers time and again, and each time we’ve found that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

We already know that bigger multi-packs aren’t always better value even if they claim to be, and that if you order special offer items online they might turn up at full price.

And now we’ve found that it can be difficult to take advantage of special offers even if you go into stores at the earliest opportunity. Is it too much to ask for supermarkets to make sure they have a decent amount of stock for the special offers they’re trumpeting so loudly?

What’s your experience – have you gone shopping to buy an item that’s supposedly on special offer only to find that it’s not there? Or that it’s there, but not on offer?


Supermarkets annoy me when I find one item on the shelf with an offer such as ‘buy one, get one free’.

edward kalfayan says:
3 May 2011

I am really fed up with the flagrant dishonesty in Marks and Spencer’s retailing. It wiill take more than me to stop it.

As an example of their frequently used deception technique, I went to the store last week just to to select a pack of high quality muscat grapes. The price had been hiked to £2.98/pack compared with tyhe previous 2 for £5.00 deal so I would have been content to take a single pack. The same grapes are regularly available at £4.50 for two at Waitrose – not exactly noted for its low pricing.

The packs were marked with a half price sticker so I thought I would take advantage of the offer and took four packs as they improve with keeping. At the till I was greeted with a price of £11.92 instead of the expoected £5.96, and caused consternation by refusing the cash asked for and asked to speak to the manager, causing irritation to those behind me in the cash desk queue.

Many people would have been ********** by the situation, paid up for the four packs, and slunk off , and that is what the marketing department relies on. It was disgraceful. In no way could anyone shopping have ever thought that these packs were worth £5.96 each for 400 gms, and that they constituted a bargain at the price asked – even at the supposed ‘half price’ the highest that day in any supermarket in the area. I tore a strip off the manager for dishonest selling only to hear that at some time in February at the very start of the season they had somewhere been on offer at £5.96 for a regulation four weeks, som that there was no dishonesty.
I would not be surprised to learn that ‘validation’ of the highly inflated base price of £5.96 had been achieved with sample packs in just on or two stores simply to give legality to the deception.

Jim says:
4 May 2011

Please also investigate the way the supermarkets are ripping us off with their ‘local’ stores. Prices are often much higher in their ‘local’ stores than the main supermarket, e.g. Tesco, free range eggs cost 50% more in Express shops than in the main supermarkets, also making them more expensive than other local shops.
Please do something to highlight the way the big supermarkets are opening ‘local’ stores, driving out small local shops and charging higher prices than in their main supermarkets and also higher prices than in the local shops they’re replacing.

Sheila P says:
4 May 2011

I fancied Sainsburys “Topped and crusted Sole with Cheddar & Spinach sauce” to try, on their website it said buy 2 for £5, single price £3 each, on the front of the freezer I checked it also said buy 2 for £5, I bought several other items and did’nt check receipt until I got home lo and behold I had been charged £3 each. I live 8 miles from our nearest Sainsburys so not worth the effort of going in to complain.

A Hughes says:
11 May 2011

For the past few weeks Morrisons in Reading have had Jarlsberg cheese ‘on offer’, reduced from £1.99 to £1.49. Last week I asked an assistant (who was stocking the cheese section) why underneath the offer ticket the ticket for this product read £1.49. She said that the ticket had to show the actual price. Today (11th May) I looked at the item again. This time it was not on offer, but the price was still £1.49. I spoke to the deputy manager Mr Candish about what I thought was a special offer which was not in fact special offer. He commented that it was good value but seemed quite unpertubed that I was challenging him over a specious ‘special offer’. I hope he never makes it to manager if that is his attitude. Morrisons regularly have ‘special offers’ in the fish section, especially on breaded fish. Indeed it is hard to find breaded fish that is not ‘on offer’ sometimes.
I think that supermarkets should be investigated for carrying out this kind of thing. It is after all dishonest, irrespective of the law to prevent just this practice taking place.

hurry for the fruit squash offer at Tesco. 99p each or 3 for £3. bargain.

Why are similar items given different “price per unit” ?, Sharwoods mango chutney in two different sizes at Tesco. one says “price per 100g” and the other is compared in “price per KG”. WHY ? Its the same product from the same manufacturer.

Ros says:
31 July 2011

My Mum and I are sure we saw a newspaper advert for Fairy Snow Washing Powder at a very big discount in Tesco this week. When we went, all the Fairy Snow was normal price. Unfortunately, we didn’t keep the newspaper so we couldn’t refer back to it but we both saw it.

M Wightman says:
26 August 2011

Tesco advertised in the national press numerous different litre spirits for £13 a bottle. All the shelves which should have stock of the offers were empty. Member of staff said they had sold out and did not know if any more was coming in.

If you ever want cheering up check out the Tesco Offer Fail! group on facebook. Some awesome offers … NOT.

Thanks for the humour. I find it worrying that a few people have commented to say that they don’t see the problem with some of the examples.

Which? has compiled a set of photos of similar daft offers in Tesco and other supermarkets, and there is a link from another Which? Conversation.

artylady says:
12 October 2012

Another sneaky tactic I’ve almost fallen victim to in Sainsbury”s is to plaster stickers such as “2 for one” or “any two for £3.00” on all the shelves holding a particular product. This often means that lots of stickers are underneath items which are not actually on offer at all.
The customer’s natural tendency is to assume the offer applies to everything on the stickered shelves when actually the bargain only applies to certain individual marked items. Unless you check it’s very easy to be taken in especially if you’re in a hurry.
When this happened to me I realised I’d been duped after checking my bill and asked for a refund on principle. The girl on the customer services desk commented that these sorts of tactics sometimes rebound on staff such as her because some customers get annoyed and take it out on them.